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Expect desperate Eagles to cover

With quarterback Donovan McNabb scrambling away from his usual spot on the injury report and running back Brian Westbrook finally back on the field, it’s time for the Philadelphia Eagles to stop making excuses.

Almost everything is in place for the Eagles to play like one of the NFL’s elite teams. Where is the promising Eagles team we saw in early September?

It’s the middle of November, and Philadelphia (5-4) must start finishing games or risk missing out on the postseason. There’s no more margin for error in the cutthroat NFC East.

The Eagles know all of this, fortunately. Veteran safety Brian Dawkins said the team has to exhibit "playoff intensity" in every game the rest of the season.

That should mean bad news for Cincinnati, which beat Jacksonville before its bye week and is playing with less urgency at 1-8.

The Eagles are 9-point road favorites over the Bengals on Sunday, so it’s time to draw a comparison. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh seem to be similar teams, and the Steelers were in this situation as 9-point road favorites over the Bengals on Oct. 19. The Steelers rolled to a 38-10 win.

Expect the Eagles to struggle more but get the job done with McNabb passing and Westbrook running for the cover. Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is 1-4 against the spread as a starter this season, and Philadelphia’s blitzing defense is more than he can handle.

McNabb has thrown only five interceptions in 324 pass attempts, and mistake-free quarterback play goes a long way in determining winners and losers against the spread.

On that subject, it’s time to recognize Carolina’s Jake Delhomme for turning in one of the most pathetic performances ever witnessed.

In the Panthers’ 17-6 victory at Oakland last week, Delhomme completed 7 of 27 passes for 72 yards and was intercepted four times. Despite Delhomme’s efforts to throw the game, the Panthers still covered.

Four more plays for Week 11 (Home team in CAPS):

Titans (-21/2) over JAGUARS: This has the look of a trap game, but I’ll ride Tennessee until its streak is stopped. The Titans, who lead the league in scoring defense, are 9-0 and 8-1 against the spread.

Bears (+4) over PACKERS: Green Bay is in a better spot by returning home after close losses at Minnesota and Tennessee. The problem with the Packers is their run defense ranks 28th in the league. The return of Kyle Orton at quarterback should help Chicago, but rookie running back Matt Forte will be the key factor in keeping this game close. The Bears swept the series last season.

Cardinals (-3) over SEAHAWKS: How long can Kurt Warner keep it up? The Arizona quarterback has 19 touchdown passes and the highest rating (106.4) in the league. If he’s a serious Most Valuable Player candidate, he should be able to beat Seattle. For the first time in six weeks, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will start for the Seahawks, but he might not be sharp.

STEELERS (-41/2) over Chargers: Ben Roethlisberger threw two costly interceptions last week in Pittsburgh’s loss to Indianapolis. Roethlisberger will play better, and the Steelers, No. 1 in the league in total defense, will avoid another collapse at home.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 27-20-3

Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans can be reached at 387-2907 or at myoumans@reviewjournal.com.

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